Eighth grader Jack Carlson may well be the chosen one of prophecy—but not the way readers might think.
After his best friend presents a poorly received class report on the mysterious titular institution, Jack inexplicably finds himself deposited on its doorstep. One instructor proclaims Jack to be the long-awaited Guardian, prophesied to kill the Reaper King, but the rest, more skeptical, give Jack and his hastily assembled team just three days to prove themselves. As the deadline looms, everything starts to go horribly, disastrously wrong….This may come from an evangelical Christian imprint, but any religious message here is kept strictly subtextual. Jack, apparently white, is a nice enough but somewhat bland protagonist; his teammates are more diverse (cued by naming convention and mention of skin color) and agreeably quirky, if a bit one-note. While it’s difficult to see a secretive school that kidnaps children to train as “borderline psychopath” soldiers through brainwashing, torturous interrogations, and mandatory death matches as a force for good, their opponents are undoubtedly irredeemably monstrous. Unfortunately, the first part of the story is a tedious agglomerate of contrived exposition, clichéd set pieces, and cringeworthy coincidences; it’s a pity because about halfway through, the narrative suddenly twists into an intense thrill ride, with battles and betrayals and (literally) an apocalyptic body count, concluding in a clever subversion of that chosen-one trope.
By the final cliffhanger, readers will be primed for a sequel; the trick will be getting them there. (Fantasy. 10-14)